Saturday, August 18, 2012

Travel Train Table (in a file folder!)

Sometimes, I have moments of pure creative genius (if I do say so myself) that are at least 95% my design. This idea is one of them, so I am very excited to share it!

We are going to Taiwan for most of September to visit family. We are going to make a shower curtain road/tracks for him for while we are there because he still plays with his train table for hours daily. That got me thinking about the eternal flight overseas. I decided that I wanted to make an easy, cheap, portable train set for the plane with the ability to create tracks and play with Thomas and his friends (and yes, I did just sing the theme song in my head). I thought about the Disney Cars felt board I had made Boogie (and I am doing a Cars version of this idea, too, but there is more precedent for that online so it isn't really my idea) and started looking for images of Thomas et al on Google. Apparently, Thomas is camera shy because there are definitely not the same kind and quality of images of the "cast" like there are for Cars. So, I went to Amazon, and worked from there. Once I had trains for Boogie, I pondered long and hard about how to make the different dimensions work so that the trains would stick to the tracks which would stick to the file folder. After a lot of trial and error, I decided that the trains would connect to the tracks, which would be printed on magnet paper, but have sandpaper on the back so they could attach to felt on the file folder. And that is why the idea is genius, because all the materials are household or inexpensive (I actually already had everything in the house so this cost me NOTHING!) and easy to find at Walmart or Michaels. Which makes them replaceable, which is key for travel toys, in my opinion.

So, here are some pictures and how you can DIY for the little traveling train addict in your life :)

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* file folder (I would have used a green one if I had one, but any color will do)
* enough felt to cover the inside of your file folder (most train tables have green as a kind of background color)
* adhesive (I used my trusty glue gun)
* printable magnet paper and/or magnet strips
* tracks from this site
* train images
* sandpaper (I used 3M, and the number on the back was 100 or 150, for coarseness, I guess?)
* double sided tape
* envelope with clasp
* velcro
* laminator and laminating pouches (contact paper would work too)


Train Table File Folder-

1. Turn your file folder upside down and trace it onto green felt. I had a large sheet of felt, but if you only have the small sheets, you will have to do this in halves. I recommend using the larger size because it will look nicer.
2. Attach the felt to the inside of your file folder. I used hot glue, and did a patch at a time to make sure I had everything lined up correctly.
3. Flip your file folder over and trim off any extra felt.
4. Use velcro to attach your envelope on the back of the file folder. This is where you will store the trains and tracks. I used velcro so that Boogie can detach the envelope before he starts playing and take out the pieces while still holding the "train table" open in his lap.


This is how I did this because I do not have fancy programs and I do not know how to make my own images. So, instead of numbered instructions, I will just tell you how I did it.

I googled "train tracks play mat" and was inspired by Jaimee at Craft, Interrupted. I found the original images at I used the "print screen" button on my keyboard, then copied and pasted the image into a Microsoft Publisher document because it is so easy to play with images in that program.

I cropped the image so I was just looking at the tracks, then made 5 copies inside Publisher. Then, I cropped each of the 5 copies until all that was left of each original image was the one small piece of the track. So, I ended up with 5 different types of tracks. Next, I made copies of each piece until I had as many as I wanted of each type on one page of the Publisher document. Doing this all in one step and from one photo is important so your tracks are the right size and will fit together well.

I just had one piece of the magnet paper left, so I filled up one page and called it a day :) I printed out the tracks on a sheet of the magnet paper, then cut all the tracks out, put them in one laminating pouch and ran it through my laminator. This was the most annoying part of the whole process because the pieces are thick and wouldn't stay put. I had to redo the setup about a million times. I don't know, though, if you would lose the seal if you run the magnet sheet through in tact and then cut the pieces out. I have only laminated magnet paper when it is already cut out to the shape I want. So, that will be trial and error or very annoying for you, depending on what you decide to do.

After the pieces were laminated, I cut them all out (again), then used the double sided tape to attach pieces of sandpaper so that the tracks would stick to the felt.


For the Thomas trains, I used the print screen function to copy images from Amazon into a Publisher document. I also found an image of Tidmouth Sheds through Google that was incredibly necessary :)

I printed out the images once I had all the ones I wanted, laminated them, then used the magnet strips on the back. For a few of them, I used sandpaper instead because they would not be on the tracks (like the crane, helicopter, and Sir Topham Hatt) The last thing I did was write the trains' names on the back above the magnets because that can be helpful! Boogie knows more of their names than I do. So that step is pretty straightforward, actually!

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And there you have it! A portable train table with tracks to build and trains to play with :)

Obviously, none of these images are mine, which is why I am not sharing any of the documents. I think probably they don't mind if I print them off for personal use, especially since we own so many of those stinking wooden trains in the 3D version!


Here is a picture to show you that the sandpaper and laminated magnet paper are strong enough so that you can stand the folder up and everything stays on.

 Linking up to these great parties!


  1. Very nice practical tutorial.I think children like very much to do this project.I appreciate It.

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  2. Wow!!! My toddler would absolutely LOVE this!!!

  3. Amazing creativity! You go girl! Great to see a post of yours with your awesome ideas!! I hope your trip is so great!

  4. Awesome idea, Sierra ... and what an amazing trip! I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Traveling with Kids Board at

  5. I love this! Such a cute idea. Thanks for sharing at Thinky Linky Thursday!
    Lori @ Cachey Mama’s Classroom

  6. What a CUTE, C~L~E~V~E~R idea!! I shared this with my Facebook readers here: - Thanks for linking up to TGIF ~ have a great week,
    Beth =-)

  7. oh, i bet he's going to have sooo much fun with this! sounds like such a fun adventure and an amazing life experience for your kiddos. thanks for linking this up to tip-toe thru tuesday!

  8. Oh, what a great idea!! He is going to love this!! Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!!

  9. This is such an amazing and original idea Sierra, I love it! I'm featuring this tomorrow on The Sunday Showcase. Thanks for linking up!

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Cheers!
    Great post! Very informative.
    Thanks for possibility to write on your website,
    it's great!
    I’m still hoping there will be more posts on this site.
    Thanks a lot!

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